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The Fluidity of Heaven and Hell

Ven. Dr. David Am Koe Su Beighley, Sunim

Abbot, White Sands Zen Center

May 11, 2023

"A big, burly samurai comes to a Zen master and says, "Tell me the nature of heaven and hell."

The Zen master looks him in the face and says, "Why should I tell a scruffy, disgusting, miserable slob like you. A worm like you, do you think I should tell you anything?"

Consumed by rage, the samurai draws his sword and raises it to cut of the master's head.

The Zen master says, "That's hell."

Instantly, the samurai understands that he has just created his own hell--black and hot, filled with hatred, self-protection, anger and resentment. He sees that he was so deep in hell that he was ready to kill someone. Tears fill his eyes as he puts his palms together to bow in gratitude for this insight.

The Zen Master says, "That's heaven."

The view of the warrior-bodhisattva is not "Hell is bad and heaven is good" or "Get rid of hell and just seek heaven." Instead we encourage ourselves to develop an open heart and an open mind to heaven, to hell, to everything. Only with that kind of equanimity can we realize that no matter what comes along, we're always standing in the middle of a sacred space. Only with equanimity can we see that everything that comes into our circle has come to teach us what we need to know."

Comfortable With Uncertainty, Pema Chodron, Shambala Press, Boston, 2003

Especially in Western Buddhism and the high level of Christian influence in the west, we want to, or are trained to believe, that heaven and hell are two distinctly different and separate places and spaces, just waiting for our assignation at the time of our death. From our Buddhist perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. Heaven and hell are "here and now realities" and our job is to comfortable dwell with each, living our lives in/with equanimity, in the here and now present moment, understanding that heaven and hell are fluid. Our ultimate direction is decided by our ever unfolding Karmic actions and understanding that every action, in our conscious minds, actions, behaviors, and tendencies will, moment by moment, place us at the gateway of heaven or hell all throughout our lives. The are not a destination...we live heaven and/or hell every moment of our lives.

That is most necessary for all of us who follow the Buddha's Path, is mindfulness, honoring the pause before we speak or act, focus all of our thoughts and actions into a space of equanimity. This will create the heaven in the here and now.

May you be safe, may you be well, may you be at peace...

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